I was raised on sarcasm; it’s my third language (after pig Latin), and I’m very fluent, but my kids have no idea what it entails. Many in the adoptive community are aware of Therapeutic Parenting—the way we teach kids from trauma and other “hard places” to attach and grow and heal—but even before I had heard of the model and learned how best to communicate, we benefited from one firm rule in our home: No sarcasm. Ever.
As I pondered how I wanted to raise our first baby, my thoughts kept coming back to one central theme I felt we needed to make our house a safe place to land: sincerity. The more I thought and researched, the more I saw that, even as a toddler, our daughter responded best to honesty in all things*. So out went snark, out went fancy, and, most importantly, out went sarcasm.
It was, and is, hardest for my husband to weed out his responses in favor of logic and truth; he wanted to invent reasons that the sky is blue, and he wanted to pass on the quick wit and sarcasm he loves. But our daughter is intensely logical and, we later learned, doesn’t process sarcasm as a joke. Her brain, diagnosed with attachment disorder, genuinely cannot decipher the snide remark, and is most inclined to take the sassy retort as a true statement.
As I curbed my sarcasm I began to see it for what it truly is: rudeness and insincerity. The way I talked to my daughter began to change even beyond banning sarcasm and became polite and humble. She (and her siblings that followed) asked questions and genuinely wanted answers; responding with sarcasm to such sincerity seemed unconscionably mean. Even a joke like the well-loved (in our family) “guess what/chicken butt” was hurtful when I viewed it as what it was: a choice to dissuade my kids from honestly sharing something that was important to them.
Child: “Mommy! Guess what?”
Me replying: “Chicken Butt.”
Child, confused: “We don’t say butt.”
Me: “It was just a joke. Never mind.”
Child, still confused: “Oh.”
If you follow this scenario, you will notice what never happened—the important thing never got told. Extending this type of conversation out over a period of time, the child subconsciously learns that sincerity is not nearly as important as a joke or routine. Things aren’t interesting to parents unless they are funny or entertaining or swift or . . . sarcastic.
My kids will learn sarcasm where they will learn all sorts of other things I have tried to shelter them from: school, friends, the general public. But they won’t hear it in my home, and they won’t associate it with mom or dad. And when the time comes that they bring home the “chicken butt,” we will laugh and laugh and then say “Chicken butt? That’s just silly.” And go on about our day.
*Except Santa and the Tooth Fairy. I will cut the person who tells my kids Santa is not real.